Have You Heard of the White Spirit Bear?

In the roadless territory of the Great Bear Rainforest on the coastal islands of British Columbia, there lives a rare and magnificent creature. It is the Kermode bear, also known as the Spirit bear.
The Kermode bear is a subspecies of the black bear, but it has one primary difference. The Kermode bear is white. It is not albino, and instead its color comes from a recessive gene mutation that gives the bear white fur. Unlike an albino animal, its skin and eyes are pigmented.
It is said that one in ten black bears in the region is born a Kermode bear, but there are only about 500 alive today. Black bears that are black in color can birth white Kermode bears, but they both must possess the recessive gene trait. Kermode bears breed more with each other than they do with other black bears. Scientist believe this has helped lead to the species’ relatively specific geographic location.

Salmon over Plants

The reason that Kermode bears have thrived in the Great Bear Rainforest is that their white-colored fur is an advantage when catching salmon, the only meat they eat with only a couple exceptions. Salmon have a more difficult time detecting or recognizing the bears from the water against the backdrop of the sky. The white turns out to be an effective camouflage.
For most of the year, the bear survives on berries and grass. The region is filled with elderberries, huckleberries, salal, and blueberries. This sustains the white omnivores until the fall feast of salmon arrives.
The fall salmon run is an exciting arrival for multiple species in the area. Humpback whales, eagles, river otters, and even sea wolves participate in the feeding frenzy, as the fish enter the water in between the islands and up the streams. Prior to its first catch, the Kermode bear becomes weak from lack of a fatty diet, and it eats the salmon diligently in order to get enough fat for winter hibernation.
Mama black bear with one black cub and one Kermode white cub

The Spirit bear

The Kermode bear is known as the Spirit bear by local indigenous people, and folklore states that the bears got their color during the last ice age when it was needed for camouflage. They see it as a symbol of peace and a reminder of more difficult times. The bear has been recognized as British Columbia’s provincial animal.
In the Great Bear Rainforest, the Kermode bear is protected, but they are at some risk of being taken by poachers. The bigger threat to these bears is a loss or destruction of habitat, as oil pipelines and civilization try to encroach. Thankfully, the native people of the area and those who have found a love for bear watching keep these magical creatures close to their hearts and their power of protest.

The Magic of the White Black Bear

Imagine walking through a moss-covered rain forest and coming across a white bear about to take a bite out of a fat salmon. It is magical to witness. And this magic really exists with the Kermode bear in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia.  
Melissa Allen


Inspired by nature. Built for adventure.

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